Norwegian version

Should Rivers Be Granted the Same Rights as Humans?

Wild river

What are you currently working on?

Most of my time is spent on my new research project Riverine Rights, which formally started the 1st of July this year. The objective is to study the experiences from New Zealand, Colombia and India – three very different countries, which all have granted personhood to rivers. 

The relationship between mankind and nature is once again made current due to the corona pandemic. What makes Riverine Rights such an important project? 

Thinking of rivers as persons goes against our normal perception, and a first reaction is usually to find it strange. But when rivers are granted rights, as in these cases we are going to study, it is a new way of giving nature legal protection. We know that current economic development is threatening the planets limits, but even so we remain incapable of changing the model. Could legal innovations such as river’s rights contain elements for new ways of managing the relationship between society and nature? Fundamental questions such as this underlies our project.

What will it imply to grant rivers and other nature personhood rights? 

This is an idea that has been discussed within environmental Law for fifty years but has only recently been put into practice. We are going to produce new knowledge of the concrete consequences this will have.

Riverine Rights is an interdisciplinary project. How do you work across the various disciplines? 

Part of what makes this project exciting is the fact that researchers with social science and law backgrounds will be working together. Traditionally, these disciplines have different approaches and asks different types of questions. We believe that by studying three concrete cases, our perspectives can meet and complement each other.

What are you most proud to have done as a researcher?

I have worked with very different issues and approaches during my research career. But my best work is undoubtedly my doctoral project, when I studied changes in Philippine village through a focus on knowledge and morality.

What does a good researcher workday look like?

As an anthropologist, the best research day is when on fieldwork, a day when you meet and have good conversations with many people, perhaps also a day when you start to learn about interesting events or to understand important social mechanisms. With the Corona pandemic, we face important challenges in how to realize a project that is meant to build on long-term ethnographic fieldwork.

Who would you most like to have a coffee and a professional chat with?

One person I would really have liked to meet for a coffee is the anthropologist David Graeber, who unfortunately died just last week. He has made important contributions, both as a radical activist and as a theoretical thinker within the field of economic anthropology. He was a fountain of ideas and fresh perspectives on old issues.
 

Facts about Riverin Rights

The project will investigate legal cases from New Zealand, Colombia and India, where rivers have been granted personhood rights. It is an interdisciplinary project, spanning perspectives from social anthropology, law, economics and resource governance.

In the past three years, rivers have been granted rights as persons or legal subjects in countries as different as New Zealand, Colombia and India. These cases are new and concrete manifestations of broader proposals of giving legal rights to nature, which have been discussed by scientists, legal
scholars, environmental activists, indigenous communities and policy-makers for some time. In this project, we will investigate the implications of this socio-legal innovation through comparative and in-depth studies of these three country cases.

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